Inaugural dashboard of metrics on public use of Freedom of Information access rights released in Australia
In December 2016, the Australian Government announced the finalisation of Australia’s first Open Government National Action Plan (NAP). This included a commitment to develop uniform metrics on public use of freedom of information (FOI) access rights (Commitment 3.2) to promote the importance of better measuring and improving understanding of the public’s use of rights under freedom of information laws.
The NSW Information and Privacy Commission (IPC) led the development of the metrics on behalf of and with the involvement of the Commonwealth, state and territory Information Access Commissioners and Ombudsmen within the remit of their jurisdictions (the Australian Association of Information Access Commissioners – AIAC).
The metrics are largely aligned with the World Justice Project’s (WJP) Open Government Index, which seeks to measure government openness based on the general public’s experiences and perceptions in 102 countries.
These metrics are expected to enable the community to examine the performance of their local FOI laws and to advocate accordingly, as well as improve community understanding of how FOI laws work and how to access them.
The metrics reflect the currently available data that is reasonably comparable across jurisdictions and the priorities agreed in Australia’s first Open Government National Action Plan. It is noted that while every effort has been made to provide a common baseline across jurisdictions, the metrics cannot deliver directly comparable data between jurisdictions. The metrics and data should be read in conjunction with the specific legislative arrangements in each jurisdiction.
The inaugural dashboard covers data from 2014-15 and 2015-16, including:
- Count of formal applications by type of applicant - Count of the number of valid/formal applications for information received by all agencies is categorised as: 1) member of the public (i.e. individuals and their legal representatives); 2) other (i.e. members of parliament, media, private businesses, not for profit organisations, other government agencies) and unknown (not categorised)
- Formal applications received per capita – This is the count of the number of valid, formal applications received in a financial year by agencies per 100,000 population. The count includes applications that are subsequently withdrawn o applications or transferred to another agency and excludes applications subsequently found to be invalid. Population numbers are taken from The Australian Bureau of Statistics as of the end of financial year (June).
- Percentage of decisions on formal applications where access was granted in full or part - The generic term ‘decision’ encompasses the use of similar terms across jurisdictions such as ‘determination’ to indicate that an agency has come to a settled position on how an information access application received/page is processed by an agency.
- Percentage of all decisions made on formal applications where access was refused in full
- Percentage of all decisions made within the (relevant jurisdiction’s) statutory timeframes
- Percentage of applications received which are reviewed by the jurisdiction’s Information Commissioner/Ombudsman – This is total number of external reviews received by the Information Commissioner/Ombudsman, expressed as a percentage of all applications received within each jurisdiction. This metric does not measure reviews conducted internally by the agency that made the original decision, or reviews conducted by courts or tribunals.
The dashboard will be updated each year once all jurisdiction data has been reported.
Broad consultation on the metrics was undertaken with civil society representatives and the general public. Respondents were generally supportive of the metrics. Additional metrics were suggested, such as applicant satisfaction with redaction, and fees and charges, withdrawal rates and reasons for refusal. This feedback is being considered in the further development of the metrics.
The press release states that some jurisdictions have moved from a reactive or “pull model” of information release to a proactive or “push model”. The push model requires agencies to proactively push information out to the community, as much as possible, with the goal of making formal applications a last resort. This difference may be reflected in the national dataset dashboard.